Tuesday 12 October 2010

Movie Review: Body Heat (1981)

About 30 years after the film noir era was supposed to have ended, writer and director Lawrence Kasdan conjures up what may be the best example of the genre.

Body Heat is memorably dominated by oppressive heat: the debilitating heat wave that mother nature has unleashed on Florida; the sensual heat of bodies rubbing against each other; the evil heat of fires caused by arson; and the suffocating heat of the ever-present cigarettes that most of the characters cannot stop smoking. Kasdan grabs control of the temperature dial, cranks to the right, and never relents.

In the middle of this heat, Ned Racine (William Hurt) is a small town lawyer in Florida. He's not a good lawyer, but that does not seem to bother Matty Walker (Kathleen Turner), a rich and unhappily married woman who meets Ned and seduces him with all the lust and sex that he can handle. Matty soon has Ned convinced that they need to murder Matty's husband Edmund (Richard Crenna) so that they can together inherit his massive fortune.

They pull off the murder, and Ned's life quickly starts to unravel, as he realizes that Matty is not exactly what she appears to be, and that he may have unwittingly stepped into an elaborate scheme way more complex than he can handle.

Body Heat catapulted both William Hurt and Kathleen Turner into super-stardom, and both are outstanding. Hurt portrays the sleazy and dim-witted Racine as both realistic and sympathetic. Turner, in her film debut, is outstanding as the lethal seductress, attracting and ensnaring Racine with passionate heat that is nothing but camouflage as she coldly manipulates him to serve her plot.

The quirky supporting cast adds to the enjoyment. Ted Danson as the only other lawyer in town and J.A. Preston as the local police detective undergo interesting transformations, from being friends with Racine to suspecting him of murder. Richard Crenna and Mickey Rourke add great depth to the film in minor but critical roles.

Kasdan's script includes many memorable lines and exchanges of dialogue, from Matty telling Ned "You're not too smart, are you? I like that in a man", to Ned telling Matty "You shouldn't wear that body". It's all clever, adult, and dangerous, perhaps too witty to apply to all the characters in this movie, but hugely successful as entertainment.

In all its elements, Body Heat simply crackles.

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